NYT: Justice Dept. Should Threaten Suit Against TYC for Pepper Spray Policy

The as-yet unmasked juvenile justice advocate on the New York Times editorial page has struck again! (Click here, here, here and here to see previous posts about the stellar editorials this writer has filed in the past few months.)

Today’s editorial, titled “Harsh Treatment for Youthful Offenders,” alerts readers to the Texas Youth Commission’s odious proposal to loosen restrictions on pepper spray use against unruly inmates. “The Justice Department has the authority to sue juvenile detention systems that allow detainees to be abused or that fail to provide safe conditions,” the editorial states. “The department, which has invoked this authority many times in the past, should take a hard look at Texas’s notoriously troubled juvenile justice system.”

If the TYC proves unwilling or unable to reform its disciplinary practices, the piece concludes, “the Justice Department should ensure that it does.”


2 responses to “NYT: Justice Dept. Should Threaten Suit Against TYC for Pepper Spray Policy

  1. The DOJ did intervene with TYC once before, in 1971, in a federal civil rights lawsuit, Morales v. Turman.

    The suit was initially brought by an El Paso legal aid attorney on behalf of a dozen or so juveniles who had been committed to TYC custody from El Paso County illegally, in violation of In Re Gault.

    But the suit turned into a conditions of confinement case, and that’s when the DOJ joined the case on the side of the plaintiffs. FBI agents visited TYC facilities, reviewed case records, and interviewed staff and inmates – revealing all sorts of horrors, including, interestingly, the excessive use of Mace on kids at close range for the pettiest of offenses.

    The point here is that DOJ intervention isn’t unprecedented. My view is that it probably will happen again, unless drastic changes are made by the state legislature, which seems unlikely.

    My bet would be some time after January 2009.

    Bill Bush, UNLV
    (Disclaimer: I’m finishing up a book about this exact topic).

  2. The use of pepper spray itself is probably symptomatic of bigger abuses as is implied by Bill. I do however believe the outright banning of pepper spray’s use is not the right course of action as it is better than most alternatives at controlling an out of control teen.

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